Twin County Probation Center gives clients tools to rebuild their lives, what clients do with those tools is up to them

Twin County Community Probation Center is located at 520 S. Main St. in Three Rivers. (Beca Welty|Watershed Voice)

Twin County Community Probation Center (TCCPC) has been a fixture in Three Rivers for decades, though most citizens do not know the extent of the work being done there to educate, support, and rehabilitate its residents. 

Established in 1979, TCCPC is a private, nonprofit corporation which contracts with the Michigan Department of Corrections to provide community-based, probation housing services. The Center encourages residents to be productive members of society by reinforcing concepts of self worth, self respect, and self esteem. Those admitted into the program are required to have a non-violent felony offender history, though there is constant and extensive vetting to understand the circumstances around each specific case. TCCPC takes both male and female clients, with Program Director Kevin Butler telling Watershed Voice there is currently a wait list for men because the Center is at capacity with nearly 80 male residents. 

Amanda Johnson, Director of Behavioral Health, said one of the first steps for a client when they arrive at TCCPC is a mandatory medical assessment with Covered Bridge Healthcare. “It’s just a mini well-check to see how they’re doing, if they have any medical needs and what they are, and what we can provide for them to just kind of get a baseline,” Johnson tells Watershed Voice. “A lot of them have mental health issues and they’ve been on medication for years, but don’t have it anymore or need it refilled. We also work with them on that.” Staff members have found that typically clients either lacked access to healthcare prior to their arrival at TCCPC, or they had not been in the right mindset to prioritize their health needs in the past. 

Beyond assisting the client with health checks, Johnson said she also provides support by handling insurance issues for residents. “A lot of what we do is also helping them get on the right insurance for what they need because there are so many options. We help them apply for Medicaid, and we also help them navigate provider plans.”

Women make up a significantly smaller demographic of the center, having less than half the population size of men. However, TCCPC has incorporated programming with Domestic and Sexual Abuse Services (DASAS) to provide crucial support to female clients. Chief of Security Jan Carter tells Watershed Voice, “87 percent of females incarcerated in the state of Michigan have either been a victim of a sexual assault, or an assault. That is way too high.” Butler added that before the Center permitted female residents women in the area would often be incarcerated, released, and typically had no choice but to return to their abuser. “Now when they come here they get the programming, the services, the job, and they now have DASAS as a connection. It gives them the opportunity to get a place on their own to maybe break that cycle,” Butler said. 

Elizabeth Alderson is a therapist with DASAS and runs a program called Wise Women. A group for female clients, Wise Women runs for eight weeks and ends with a graduation. Residents attend twice a week for those two months, which amounts to a total of 16 classes. Tuesdays are dedicated to a curriculum surrounding life skills, crisis planning, and education around what is considered domestic and sexual violence. Alderson said while the Center recognizes many people have experienced these kinds of traumas, they often don’t identify it as such without the education.

On Thursdays, Alderson’s class is group therapy and focuses on trauma and substance abuse. She says it is important to recognize many of these individuals have experienced early childhood trauma that went unrecognized, undiagnosed, and untreated, which left them with inner pain they were unable to manage. In circumstances such as these, Alderson believes clients turn to illegal substances for a coping mechanism because they are so readily available in the community. Group therapy on Thursdays is dedicated to working on the connection between the traumatic events they’ve experienced, how substance abuse came into play as a way of managing the inner pain, and ultimately how they can find healthier coping skills. 

“What we’ve seen in the substance world for decades now is if we only treat substance use and never talk about their mental health and their trauma, the substance use will return because the coping skills weren’t strong enough,” Alderson said. “In group therapy we work through identifying the traumatic experience, figuring out how can we work through that, and learning how to cope with that.” Director of TCCPC Tom Miles said programming such as DASAS is not required with the State of Michigan, but he provides those services because he recognizes the need. “That’s one of the reasons why our beds are full because Twin County provides so much more than what we are required by contract.”

In Spring 2022 construction began on building a new addition for the Center. “The big reason for putting on this new addition is that so many things after the pandemic are now being done remotely,” Miles tells Watershed Voice. “A lot of people are now working from home remotely, the court has started doing more things remotely, so this new addition affords us the opportunity to have our clients participate remotely, as well.” Before the new build occurred, Miles said many times probation agents or other service providers would come to the Center to meet with clients, and there would be no available private space for the meeting to take place. “We were sometimes having to use the laundry room because everything else was full.”

The renovation includes conference rooms of various sizes, and will be beneficial for those using it to access court proceedings remotely. Each room is monitored by security camera only, as having audio included would violate HIPAA, according to Miles. “We just really needed to make sure that whatever we were doing or providing for our clients we were HIPAA-compliant, making sure we could guarantee confidentiality and privacy. Taking all of that into consideration we thought, ‘now is the time to do this.” Miles added that other purposes for the meeting areas include appointments for community mental health, adult and continuing education, and even residents receiving child visitations. 

Staff members at TCCPC say the center a unique and special program, and attribute several factors to its success. Butler said employee diversity has been crucial, “There are some of us that come from a criminal justice background, some that come from factories, adult healthcare, veterans…everybody here brings a little bit different thing to the table.” Carter attributes the accomplishments of the Center to how well staff is equipped to relate to residents, which she says makes them feel supported.

Administrative Case Manager Gretchen Schenk echoed Carter’s sentiment. “One of the biggest things they (residents) like about Twin County is they don’t feel like just a number. They know they are people to us. That’s one of the things I hear from people all the time.” Miles said the Center is also effective because staff are not overwhelmed by a large population of residents and therefore able to individualize their approach. 

Though TCCPC is laden with educated, empathetic staff and vital programming, rehabilitation is ultimately in the hands of each client. “We can offer all the services but really in the end it’s up to the resident. They will make the choice of whether they’re ready to change right here. Their successes are their successes, and their failures are their failures,” Carter said. When a resident is admitted to Twin County, finds employment, and receives the first paycheck “you see them walk a little taller,” Carter added. That sense of pride found in paying off court costs and beginning to find financial freedom provides a sense of self-worth for clients that’s evident to staff members. 

“This is a program of accountability and responsibility, but yet again opportunity,” Miles said of Twin County. ” I think it’s one of the things that makes our program very unique because we do hold these individuals responsible. If you don’t hold them accountable then what you’re really saying is you don’t care, and that’s not Twin County.”

Beca Welty is a staff writer and columnist for Watershed Voice.